Skip to Content

The Selling Secrets Hidden Within The Best Commencement Speeches

Like a great commencement speaker, sales reps should know what kind of journey they want to take their audience on, and gently navigate them to a conclusion that leaves them ready to take a step into the unknow

Amid all the other social obligations that tend to pop up around this time of year, there’s a better than average chance that sales reps will find themselves sitting in the audience for the graduation ceremony of a friend, relative or even one of their own children. That also means sitting through a commencement speech, which can be either exhilarating — or excruciating.

It’s like any other kind of public performance: some commencement speakers might be too dry, academic or just plain boring to hold the audience’s attention. At least occasionally, however, a university or other post-secondary institution will choose someone who not only boasts an impressive career but an innate ability to synthesize what they’ve learned into a talk that gives graduates extra motivation to start on their careers.

When a commencement speaker is really strong, the message won’t just resonate with the graduates, though. It will also offer insight and inspiration to plenty of others in the audience, whose own commencement is little more than a distant memory. That’s why you may be seeing videos of great commencement speeches shared on social media, or the transcripts of a commencement speech reprinted in an online magazine or blog.

Depending on the speaker’s background, sales reps might not expect to hear much that will apply to their day-to-day lives, but that’s okay. Regardless of the message, what they might want to pay attention to instead is the way the speaker approaches the delivery of their message. These speakers aren’t making a sales pitch, of course, but they are often “selling” an idea that they want graduates to take in and bring with them as they enter the workforce. This requires the same skills in storytelling, audience empathy and sequencing that often lead to a closed deal among star sales reps.

Think back to the best recent commencement speech you’ve heard. If nothing comes to mind, browse around for one online, or pay attention to those that get covered over the next month or so. Then, notice some of the powerful elements that commencement speakers weave in, and you’ll see things that could make sense in your next customer meeting that will complement the data you pull out of a CRM like Sales Cloud.

The Power Of Anecdote

Once they get the formal introduction and greetings to the audience out of the way, great commencement speakers tend to avoid getting overly preachy or directive right away. Instead, they might start out with a joke, or more likely an anecdote that gently brings their theme to light.

The anecdotes you might hear include the following:

  • A story of when the speaker was in school, and a good or bad thing that happened to them that has informed their current path somehow.
  • A metaphor or fable that gets their key point across, but which will require the rest of the speech to add context.
  • A story about their lives today and how they connect it back to that point of a “fresh start” that graduates might be feeling at the moment of finishing their studies.

There are other variations, of course, but they all accomplish the same thing: they hook the audience right away and, consciously or not, gets the audience to give them permission to go into a lot more detail.

Sales reps who launch immediately into the benefits of their particular product, on the other hand, might see customers tuning out early on in a meeting. They might be similarly bored by an overview or background on the company, given that they may have done their own research already.

Instead, what about starting a sales discussion using one of the devices above? Think of the last time you made a major purchase, for example, and what the experience taught you. Can you liken what the customer might be going through to a classic movie plot or song? What can you tell them from your own life that is at all similar to starting from scratch in solving a business problem? These are ways to establish a more human connection and potentially make a sales rep more credible in the buyer’s eyes.

The Power Of Humility And Treating People As Equals

Most likely the best commencement speakers you’ve ever heard don’t brag while they’re on stage. They let their message demonstrate how accomplished and insightful they are. These speakers also tend to be empathetic in thinking about what their audience of students might be going through: the high of being done this phase of their studies, mixed with possible anxiety about their future careers and wondering what exactly awaits them once they land their first job.

The mindset of the average buyer probably isn’t a lot different. They may be excited (or at least a bit relieved) to have gotten the go-ahead to make a particular purchase. They don’t want to make a big mistake, however, which might jeopardize their reputation with their boss. Also, they don’t know what they don’t know – including what it will be like working with the vendor they eventually choose.

A great commencement speaker doesn’t pretend they have all the answers, and neither should sales reps – that’s why they have Sales Cloud. Instead, selling should be a process of sharing knowledge, thinking deeply about what your audience wants and needs from you and focusing only on those things.

The Power Of A Great Call To Action

When a great commencement speech comes to an end, the audience is often left with a very clear piece of advice or takeaway the speaker hopes to impart. Even if they’re a published author, though, you won’t hear them end with a message to “buy my book.” They’ll offer a call to action that is encouraging but in some cases also challenging – urging students to take calculated risks, for example.

The best sales pitches end this way, too. An outstanding rep will base their conversation on what they know really matters to the buyer about their future, and that of their organization, and beyond offering a great product or service they might also help show them the way forward in achieving their business objectives.

It’s worth pointing out one major and obvious difference, here, of course. Sales reps shouldn’t be going into a buyer meeting with the intention of reciting a speech. It should be a two-way dialogue where customers help fill in any blanks about their needs, their strategy and their culture.

Like a great commencement speaker, though, sales reps should know what kind of journey they want to take their audience on, and gently navigate them to a conclusion that leaves them ready to take a step into the unknown. Graduation, after all, if not simply an end to school but the beginning of a new chapter. Purchasing something that brings new value to an organization should feel very much the same.

5 secrets of the most productive salespeople. Get the ebook.

Get timely updates and fresh ideas delivered to your inbox.